Author Archives: Sam Fiske


The Urban Garden Movement


I admit, initially I had not given much thought to urban gardening, much less as a tool to educate kids and unite communities. The very notion of an urban garden movement is hard to fathom, we do not associate farming and cities naturally. However, my own notions began to change after watching Stephen Ritz present a Ted Talk. Ritz, a teacher/administrator and figurehead of the Green Bronx Machine, has found a way to teach students science and technology in one of the most disenfranchised communities in the nation by gardening.

Despite the destitution associated with the Bronx community, Stephen Ritz is cultivating hope and success through his urban gardening classroom. Very similar in manner to New York City’s famed origins of graffiti and hip hop, Ritz’s emphasis is to take what is around him and make it beautiful. Making something out of what is societally percieved “nothing”, Ritz encourages students, who predominantly comes from lower income families, to learn how to care and nurture for the plants they grow in his classroom. In a community that has a lack of access to affordable fresh greens, these students grow their own food and are able to feed their own school, bring home to families, and provide as a service to customers.

This educational approach is dynamic in nature. In order for the students to have access to gardening, they must learn how to grow their own plants. In so doing, they learn the proper math and science behind growing plants properly while also collaborating and participating freely. Additionally, Ritz’s students also learn to make a living wage as his project doubles as a business exporting and planting the gardens for community participants and on people’s homes. Some of their invitations have brought Ritz and his students to the Hamptons, where they were able to plant beautiful gardens on gorgeous rooftops in what he calls the “new green graffiti.”

It may not seem as viral as Gangnam Style, but urban garden methods are growing more popular and spreading across the nation. Ron Finley, a fellow urban gardening advocate and TED speaker, is attempting to turn urban Los Angeles from a “food desert” to a “food forest”. In a recent article, the Detroit neighborhood of Brightmoor has taken similar efforts to plant food in desolate urban areas and bring the community together. Brightmoor’s farming effort has helped push through Detroit’s urban farming ordinance, according to Detroit City Councilman James Tate. Even Boston is considering an amendment to its laws to permit accessibility to urban farming, which has become increasingly popular in recent years. The urban garden movement is growing on the nation’s interest for a lot of reasons, all of which benefit  and educate our society.

Perhaps Stephen Ritz says it best, as a metaphor for education: “We’re planting all kinds of seeds – academic seeds, cultural seeds, seeds of hope. I call it cultivating minds and harvesting hope.”







Why Outdoor Play Benefits Kids


There are no mysteries surrounding why outdoor play benefits kids. We know this because the outdoors continues to play a role in our lives not much different from the time we were kids. On bright sunny days, outdoor play is enticing. People go bike riding, lounge in the parks, run around and enjoy the fresh air. Adults may not go outside to play tag and climb trees like kids  (not that this should stop you) but the positive vibes and liberating feeling the outdoors offers us encourages an inherently active lifestyle.

The outdoors quite simply, is fun and exciting for children. In an interesting survey conducted by the large UK store chain Sainsbury’s, 1,500 children between the ages of five and eleven were asked about their preferred summer activities in order of preference. The results showed that the kids vastly preferred outdoor play, including playing in the park or in the garden as their favorite pastime. The first paid activity according to the results was going to the movie theatre, which came in at number 12 on the list.

Playing outside may not be every child’s preference, and certainly we all enjoy our time indoors as well. However, spending some time and energy outside has shown to make a significantly positive impact on a child’s health. Aside from the increase in physical activity, play and recess-like activities have been linked to healthy bodily functions such as eyesight. According to a recent article describing the results of a study published in journal Ophthalmology, kids who play outside are less likely to develop myopia, or near-sightedness, over time. The study is part of an ongoing worldwide myopic research boom over the past decade, studying the large increase in the disorder over the second half of the 21st century.

As an organization, Sports for Sharing feels strongly about the many benefits of play and recess. After all,  outdoor play is especially fundamental to our program’s success in helping children become better citizens and change agents. It is integral because the outdoors and playing feature a near universally shared positive experience. The outdoors offers kids and adults alike the freedom to learn from each other, work together, play together, be active and healthy together. It is good to see play and recess, after years of erosion from schools, start to  grow back into school time. Especially since outdoor play has even been found to positively affect child behavior in schools. We encourage recess and celebrate actions to encourage outdoor play, as two area state parks did as part of National Kids to Parks Day.

We know outdoor play benefits kids in so many ways, it’s important to encourage it as much as possible. And while we’re at it, take a moment a moment to step outside and enjoy the fresh air ourselves, what is there to lose?

(Photo: The Image Bank/Getty Images)



Understanding Bullying

bullied-boy Bullying as we know it has happened at some point in most of our lives. It is an unfortunate experience we remember vividly in some capacity, whether it be as the bully, the bullied victim, or the bystander, oftentimes in a school related setting. Sadly, bullying exists across most facets in our lives, but it almost certainly originates from the time we were children. Some have had it worse than others, but that is little excuse to blow off what is almost certainly a preventable issue. In fact, bullying is considered a learned behavior, and something scientists and researchers have come to increasingly understand. Understanding bullying is the first step we can take to learning how to appropriately deal with a behavior that often impacts the lives of children far beyond their childhood.

One of the most important aspects to understand about bullying is it is repetitive in nature for the means of achieving empowerment over another. Dan Olweus, a prominent researcher on behaviors of bullying states that “a student is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative acts on the part of one or more other students. It is a negative action when someone intentionally inflicts, or attempts to inflict, injury or discomfort upon another.” It often involves repeated physical aggression, but also can take place verbally, through isolation, or through virtual harassment such as on websites and social media outlets. There is distinct differences in behavior and motivation between normal interactions and bullying. Marlene Snyder, Ph.D., listed a helpful comparison chart between normal conflicts and bullying in her article as seen here:



It may seem obvious, but the behavioral distinctions between bullying and non-bullying are important and often difficult to identify. It is perhaps in part because of this that bullying persists  in our culture. Without first identifying bullying, bullies receive little consequence for their actions, and continue the abuse of their victims. Most victims will continue to be bullied, or be ridiculed by others, but there are those that become violent towards the bully and others. Violent responses by bullied victims in schools over the past few decades has in no small part been a main catalyst for sparking the bullying conversation in America. The strategies for bullying should be focused on how we can identify bullying and intervene as adults to help children understand how to deal with bullies.

As Corinne Gregory explains, effectively dealing with bullying should be based on a model of prevention and changing our culture that enables the behavior. It is important to see semblances of this notion picked up by groups such as the National PTA and Discovery Education, who have kicked off a campaign visiting town halls in cities across the nation to discuss bullying prevention and mental health. While anti-bullying campaigns have achieved mixed results politically, with an anti-bullying bill failing in Minnesota today, being aware of what constitutes bullying is imperative to helping our children deal with these behaviors as they go to school in the present. Society is criticized for having many faults, but bullying does not have to be one of them. Just as bullying is learned, so too can we learn to prevent it both individually and as a community. Through understanding and knowledge, we can properly address and intervene in an effort to curb a preventable behavior.


(Source: Marlene Snyder, Ph.D.)
Great Schools

(Source: Corinne Gregory)
Social Smarts